So Much for Paradise
Idit leaned close, “Kev? I love you. More love every day. ”
The jet engines droned through the planes cabin.
Kevin beamed, pulled the sleep mask from his eyes and above the hum the engines smiled “Nice way to wake from a nap. . . Usually, it’s the damn bing of fasten your seat belt. . . ”
"C'est votre capitaine qui parle. Nous avons commencé notre descente et nous atterrirons à Bora Bora dans dix minutes.
“This is your captain speaking. We have begun our descent and we’ll be landing in Bora Bora in ten minutes.”
“It’s weird how you do that.” Idit said.
“How you make a comment and seconds something happens that coincides almost exactly what you just said. It’s eerie. It’s like you can predict future events. But I love you anyway.
“Come again? I don’t understand.”
Idit turned in her seat. Like just now. You said Bing and sure enough. We get a Bing Bing. It’s weird.”
“We’re both weird,” Kevin smiled.
“Weird we be.” Idit laughed, paused, and took a long, measured breath. “For most of my life, I’ve had two dreams. Win the 1500 meter freestyle swim in the Olympics and go to Bora Bora and stay in a thatched roofed bungalow over a lagoon. The furthestbungalow from shore with someone I truly love. The Olympics are long past. Though, I gave it good run and we are in Bora Bora.” She took his hand, “Happy Anniversary. I love you.” Idit looked out the window. The plane banked. “I think I see our bungalow,” she pointed to the lagoon below.
Kevin opened the bungalow door a in a quick move lifted Idit in his arms and carried her across the threshold.
“Dreams really do come true.” Idit smiled with a theatrical sigh.
Their bungalow was last in the chain; furthest from shore. Their view of tiny islands in the distance unimpeded. A long, low table rested in the middle of the living room. The top was glass and eight feet below you could see the clear waters of the lagoon. Idit tapped a finger nail on the glass.
Instantly, fish gathered below.
“We have company,” Idit laughed.
Kevin pointed to the hinges. “I think it may come open.” It did. Kevin lifted the glass; immediately more fish appeared.
“They think we’re a McDonald franchise,” Kevin said.
“We are.” Idit popped the lid on a complimentary tin of almonds and tossed a handful into the opening.
“Anyone order the Big Mac and Fries?” A dozen fish became four dozen. In an instant every shard of almond disappeared.
Idit smiled returning the rest of the almonds. “Unbelieveable! We’re feeding fish in the biggest gold fish bowl in the universe This is fun, but let’s save the rest for the sharks.” Idit returned the rest of the almonds to the can.
Kevin lifted a bottle of Champagne out of an ice bucket on a tray with two fluted glasses. “What do you think?”
“Should we open this now ? Or save it for later?” Asked Kevin, pulling Idit close. Nuzzling her neck. Idit shivered.
“What are you up too?” Idit sighed.
“Are you complaining?”
“I’m Fish Nibbling.”
“Yes, It’s an ancient sexual technique. Tiny bites. Nips really. On various body parts. Today the art is taught only in Wanamaka Maritime school to graduate students.”
“When did you go to Maritime School? Or become a graduate student?”
“I don’t tell you everything. Besides, I can’t my degree until I pass Fish Nibblin’ 1a. And it’s hard to find volunteers to be Fish Nibbled.”
“Wouldn’t want to stifle your education.” Idit offered her neck. “Please, Fish Nibble away.”
They made love slowly. With familiarity— no rush. Both savoring the intimacy.
Later, on their private deck, Kevin said. “I know the water is calling you. I’ll finish unpacking — go explore the reef. He pointed to two motus in the distance. “Think you can swim that far?”
“Sure. Underwater. One breath each way.”
Kevin pulled her close. “I expect to hear about some high adventure. Shark encounters, arm wrestling with a giant squid. Something exciting. Okay?
Besides, I want to check you out in your new florescent yellow snorkel and fins. Bet I can see you a mile away.”
Hesitant, Idit said, “I’ll wait. Let’s swim together. ”
“Honey, I can’t keep up with you in the water. . . Hell, I have a hard time keeping up on land. Go. Enjoy. I’ll join you in a bit. Go. Go.”
In her element, Idit swam. Warm lagoon water washed away the jet-lag. She swam. Quickly lost in remembrances of old competitions. Old rivalries. Helen Purcell. Joan Kerr. She swam. Perfect strokes. Freestyle. Picturing her idols Katie Ledecky and Kate Ziegler. She remembered the words of swim coach Macaffery’s. ‘Idit, you’re good. You could be great. The best distance swimmers use smooth, rhythmic strokes in an effortless horizontal dance. You can free dive forty or fifty feet. Even deeper. Amazing lung power. You are blessed. Use the power when you swim. Now get back in the pool and work on your ‘Flip.’
Idit smiled breaking the seal in her mask. Salt water poured in. She paused. ‘Never crack a smile when snorkeling. Breaks the seal.’ Floating on her back, she spit on the glass of her mask, smeared it around, rinsed the lens and swam.
She recalled how she finally mastered the ‘flip-turn’ at each end of the pool. She swam further. Over coral heads. Across a sandbar and a school of yellow tang. Lost in her past. Loving the present. And then with a short intake of breath she dove. Dolphin fin kicked downward. Past raspberry- red elk-horn coral. Pairs of striped moorish idols. Parrot fish. Idit swam over leaves of fire coral. Through a family of butterfly fish and then slowly drifted upward breaking the surface with an out stretched arm. A technique she and Kevin learned getting certified to SCUBA dive. She exhaled a puff of breath to clear her snorkel. ‘The world is wonderful.’
In the distance, a motorboat engine rumbled on and off.
Idit took in another breath and dove into a kaleidoscope of light and colors. A long string of wobbly bubbles rose slowly from under an outcropping of rock and coral. She kicked downward and swam sideways past several spotted tobys and almost smack into the nose of a unicorn fish emerging from a slit in a patch of violet corral. Under the reef, she almost giggled. ‘A hawkbill,’ she sighed. The turtle opened one sleepy eye. ‘Beautiful,’ she thought and finned her way further along the bottom of the reef.
From a distance came the roar of an outboard. Closer. Louder. Then a roar and a wake of white water as it passed above her head and faded. ‘Damn kids. Going too fast to spot my fins or snorkel. Maybe I need to strap a bicycle beacon to my head.’
Arm out-stretched she rose to the surface. Clearing her snorkel she looked at the string of bungalows. They were a long way off. Behind her she heard an outboard motor rev. Idit turned.
Fifty yards away an aluminum boat bobbed in the water. The bow drifted to her left. The side was riddled with indentations and scars of paint. The engine revved again. Something large sat on the rear gunwales clothed in a grey raincoat and a Sou’wester rain cap. It pulled the brim over it’s face.
‘Odd,’ Idit thought. ‘Whatever that is. . . It looks like the old guy on the tuna fish can. Complete with raincoat and those stupid rain caps.’ The bow of the boat drifted to her right. The dark figure gunned the throttle several times then rose in the stern and made flailing swimming motions with its arms. It reached for the throttle and gunned the motor impatiently.
Idit threaded water. ‘What the . . .?
It rose again and made swimming motions. The motor whined in neutral.
‘A race? Some kind of game?’
Slowly, the bow turned back toward Idit. Lifted off the water with a sudden spurt from the outboard engine and shot straight at her. “Son of a. . . ” Idit gulped air and dove. Her left leg jerked spasmodically as the propeller blade sliced off the tip of her left fin. “Shit…”
Above, the boat growled pass. Idit stared up at the wake. Finally the pounding grind of the motor diminished. She held her breath until she couldn’t, then kicked to the surface. Disoriented, she struggled to get her bearings but her mask was fogged. ‘Damn it. Never breathe through you nose. . . I can barely see. She tilted her mask forward, spit into the lens and smeared the spittle. With a quick rinse, she spotted the bungalows in the distance. ‘Damn, they’re further away. Current’s dragging me. . .’ From her right came the soft pop-pop of an idling motor. She jerked around.
Nearer still the THING in the stern jiggled the throttle. ‘IT’s keying in on the neon snorkel and fins,’ she thought.
IT made a ‘hitch-hiker’ motion with a gnarly thumb. The boat came about. The outboard accelerated. Subsided. Taunted. Suddenly the motor surged with power. The bow rose. A dark grey prow. A battering ram. A twenty foot aluminum spear aimed at her forehead. Above the roar, Idit could hear gears engage.
‘Asshole is toying.’ Eye on the bow Idit treaded backward. ‘Can’t tell if that THING is a he or a she.’ Idit glanced quickly to her left. ‘Damn, the bungalows are at least eight hundred yards away. No sign of Kevin. Hell, I can’t even tell which bungalow is ours.’
The motorboat engine revved. The bow reared. Descended. Pounded the surf, bucked and inched forward. Spurted in stops and starts. Closer. Fifty yards. Thirty.
Idit kicked high out of the water. Raised her arm. Extended a middle finger and yelled, “Fuck You.”
IT twisted the throttle. The sixty-horse power engine bellowed. The bow rose high. Higher. Gears engaged. The boat plummeted down and tore through the water at Idit.
She was ready. Idit dove directly at the speeding craft. A shallow dive. Her ears roared from the motor. Momentum sucked her upward. Thick strands of hair where drawn into the propeller. Her head yanked backward. A tuff of hair clipped by the propeller.
She rose immediately. The boat disappeared then reappeared in the distance making a long slow curve. ‘Going too fast to put on the brakes. Time to move. ‘IT likes neon fins. IT gets neon fins.’ Idit slipped them off. Filled both foot holes with air and shoved them heel first into the water. Where they dangled a few feet below the surface. ‘Let the asshole stare at those for a while. I ddn’t need fins in a pool, don’t need them now.’
Idit could hear the boat returning. She unsnapped the snorkel from her mask and eased it between the cups of her swim suit. ‘Let’s play hide and seek.’ She got as low in the water as possible. Tilted her head until only one side of her face was visible. She covered her cheek and ear with her dark hair and waited. Not far off the motorboat slowed and went to idle. The THING in the stern stood. Looked in her direction.
‘IT can’t see me.’ Behind her a new sound. Loud. Whining motors. She jerked her head and saw two kids on jet skis. They were upon her before she could react. “HELP! HELP!” She screamed. Her pleas were drowned out by the engines. Plumes of water rooster-tailed from the rear of the jet skis as they flew past. Idit could hear shrieks of laughter. ‘They didn’t hear me.’
Not far away the aluminum boat moved slowly in her direction. ‘Shit. Maybe that prick did. Got to disappear.’
Idit took a longing look at the bungalows, sucked in air and dove. She
swam breaststroke. Long, strong strokes. She tapped the neon snorkel on her chest, ‘I’ve a special plan for you.’ For ten minutes, Idit rose and dove. She breathed in air sideways. Never more than a few inches of her head appeared on the surface. She dove. Rose and dove again. At the surface, the bungalows were still far away, but closer. Idit treaded water in a slow circle. Rose a bit higher. There was no sign of the boat or the THING inside.
‘Time to kick it up a notch,’ she thought. ‘If I keep my kicks underwater and arms close to the surface.’ She swam. Gathering rhythm. Remembering the voice of coach Macaffery. ‘Most efficient is the scissor kick take an under shoulder breath every third stroke. If you want to turn up the speed, breath every second stroke. As you swim use a slight torso roll toward your pulling arm. Don’t let your arms cross in front of your head. Keep them parallel to your body.’ Idit swam. Each stroke stronger. Each stroke more confident. ‘Draw through each motion. Feel the grove.’ Coach Mac said.
‘Pull,’ She told herself. ‘Draw each breath deep. This is what you trained for. Swim out of this nightmare. Pull. Stroke. Swim Idit. Swim like you’ve never swum before.’
Finally the bungalows drew closer. Two football fields away. She could see the one on the end. Theirs.
The sound was dull. A motor. Far off. Closer. Then further again. With one lazy kick she came out of the water. ‘Shit.’ IT was there. Trawling in a zig-zag pattern between Idit and the bungalows. The THING stood near the motor. Looking. . .’fuck! Damn THING has binoculars. IT’s done this before.’
She eased under the surface. Immediately her mask filled with water. She checked for leaks. ‘Damn, it. I’m crying. Can’t believe it. I’m crying.’ Above the motor grew stronger then faded. ‘IT’s moving my way.’ All sound stopped. She waited. ‘Counted. One thousand one. One thousand two.’ Idit rose. Gulped air and descended immediately. Listened. Nothing.
‘Sound travels a lot faster in water than air.‘ Coach Mac told the swim team. ‘When you’re in a long distance race listen. Often you’ll hear your opponents gurgling or gasping. . .That’s when to step on the gas. Extra effort. Beat them mentally.’ Coach Mac held up a quarter. ‘All of you take a breath and sit on the bottom of the shallow end. To prove my point, I’m going to toss a quarter into the deep end of the pool.’ Moments later the team heard a “THUNK” as the coin hit bottom.
Idit listened. The lagoon was silent. She raised her arm and slowly rose to the surface. The bungalows were closer. But to her left a football field maybe two away the aluminum boat waited.
‘IT has no idea where I am. IT can’t let me survive. IT won’t. Idit froze. No movement. No breath. She listened. THING’s turned off the outboard. How close can I get?
‘Do I try to swim past that damn THING? Try to make it to the bungalow?
Get to Kev for help, or. . .’ The outboard motor growled to life.
Inhaling deeply, she dove. The reef below was alive. Fish darted. Prisms of color bounced off the reef. Idit ignored everything. She stroked forward. Determined. Paused. Listened. IT lurked out there. Somewhere straight ahead. Not moving. Stalking. Searching. Searching for me. Idit returned to the surface on her back, took in air and without a making a ripple flipped backward into the water. She returned to breast stroke. Moving silently across coral and sand. Never kicking or exhaling. Never sending bubbles to the surface.
With the boat closer, she came to the surface. IT stood in the middle of the boat. Searching the water with binoculars. She sunk under the surface. ‘Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly. This is the final lap. Don’t rush. Focus. ’
She closed. A few strokes and the hull of the boat appeared overhead.
She rose silently. Head bent backward she took in air from the two inch gap in the vee of the hull. Lungs full she floated to the stern.
‘No time to be shy.’ Idit grab the neon snorkel. Took off her bra top, tied the straps and cups to the drive shaft and propeller blades. Above the boat rocked. The THING moved from side to side. ‘Getting’ anxious, asshole?’ She lifted her head quietly between the stern and drive shaft and breathed in. Silently. Deeply. Then jammed the snorkel between the bra straps and cups, and twisted. Increasing the torque with each twist. ‘Now the last part.’ She shoved both metal swimsuit hooks from the bra strap into the lynch pin that held the propeller to the drive shaft. Along with a quick swallow of air, Idit twisted the snorkel one last time. ‘A homemade bra and snorkel propeller- remover,’ she thought. ‘And now the games begin. Twenty feet is all I need.’ She eased deeper. ‘This better work. Plan B. sucks.’
She swam out from under the shadow of the boat and twenty feet away shot out of the water. Binoculars to ITS eye the THING faced the other way. “Hey, asshole, over here. IT turned. IT waved maniacally then sat and pulled the starter chord. The outboard sputtered. IT pulled again. The outboard sputtered.
Idit shouted. ‘DOESN’T THAT PISS YOU OFF DICK HEAD?’
IT pulled the chord violently. A plume of smoke poured from the exhaust. The outboard purred to life. Idit cupped her hands to her mouth ‘DON’T PUT IT IN GEAR.
The THING waved and repeated the damn swimming motion. Idit swam toward the boat. ‘Here I am.’ She heard the ‘clunk’ as the gear engaged. The boat shot forward. But only few feet. The ‘SNAP’ was like a clap of thunder. Omnipresent. There. Everywhere. Loud. Then gone in a moment. The motor whined. Struggled. The THING continued to gun the throttle. The sixty-horse power motor bellowed. “MAYBE YOU’RE OUT OF GAS,” Idit screamed and dove deep.
Moments later she rose under the boat. The drive shaft spun. There was no sign of her swimsuit top, the neon snorkel or the boats propeller. ‘Bingo.’ She thought and pounded the bottom of the boat. A rhythmic, kettle drum sound. She dove and popped out of the water ten feet away. ‘Eh, Captain Tuna how’s your day so far?”
She dove and rose under the boat. Extending both arms she rocked it back and forth. She flipped over and kicked the aluminum hull with both feet. ‘Like reggae?’
Next to the whirling drive shaft she grabbed a breath of air. Idit sensed the THING above her. “Yoo Hoo,” she shouted. The boat shook as the THING rose and moved to the middle. She could see IT’s shadow. Left side. She took in more air and went to the right side. “Over here. . .”
IT was big. Dressed in a thick grey rain coat. But it was fast. Idit ducked as the oar blade came down with a THUD.
‘Damn! Don’t get to cute,’ she admonished herself as she stroked under the keel and surfaced on the right side of the boat; gulped air and shouted, “over here.” She gave IT the finger.
IT lumbered to the gunwales. Lifted the oar. Idit waved. Treaded closer. “Catch me if you can,” she taunted. The oar descended. A hammer. Vicious. “Missed. No Whack-A-Mole points for you.”
The oar came down again. Closer. “Much better. Much better. The Olympic committee gives that a six. Let’s try the other side.’ She dove. When she surfaced IT was waiting. “Little stick getting heavy?”
Idit moved closer. “Come on. Show me what you’ve got, big boy.” She bobbed her head like a prize fighter. “Make it a. . .” The THING made a subtle move forward and swung. The oar blade came down sideways. Like the blade of a guillotine and split the water. Idit pounced. Grabbed the shaft of the oar and pulled. Forward momentum carried the THING over the gunwales and into the lagoon. IT floundered. Idit pulled in air, seized IT’s leg and dove.
‘Let’s see who can hold their breath longest.’ Down she swam. “Raincoats are heavy underwater.’ Down she swam. IT tried to kick her loose. ‘How’s your air supply, Captain Tuna?’ Finally, the struggling subsided. Idit released IT’s leg and started to the surface.
Instantly the THING reached, seized her hair and yanked her backward.
‘Have it your way.’ Idit’s body buckled as she kicked and rocketed head first into the THING’S face. There was a crack. Dark blood gushed from under the rain cap.
IT released her hair. Idit flipped, coming down from above. She used both hands to push IT’S head downward. Further and further. IT’S air bubbles shrank. ‘Die bastard. Die.’ The body drifted out of her hands and sank into the depths of the lagoon.
Idit never remembered returning to the surface. She never remembered starting to swim. She did remember the sound of a jet ski. Lifting her head and seeing Kevin wave. She remembered his smile. She remembered him lifting her on to the back the jet ski. She remembered his first comment.
“Where’s your top?